Changes are happening in the business world that are right before our eyes, and yet we don't see it. Listen to executives and managers of businesses talk, and one of the comments you hear concerns the difficulty they have at finding qualified people. Is there really a talent scarcity problem? Or is it a different problem that is particularly suited to the 21st century?
Pamela Slim writes a popular blog called Escape from Cubicle Nation. She says that "I write tips for corporate employees who want to quit their job and start their own business." She's not alone. At a recent conference, Beth Schoenfeldt, the co-founder of Ladies Who Launch, a nationwide social network for female entrepreneurs said,"We find in our surveys that women are dying to get out of corporate America. Entrepreneurship is now seen as less risky than it used to be."
"There are so many people who are this good now; he would never be him. He would not be Neil Young today. Maybe he is that brilliant, but that is not a rare thing anymore. That brilliance, that level of musicality, that level of lyricism, is out there in so many places."
These anecdotes suggest that the problem is not a talent scarcity question, but something else.
As I've listened and reflected on what people have said, I've reached the conclusion that there is not a shortage of talented people. In fact, my impression is that the number of talent people who are also expertly proficient in the use of their talent is at a all-time high. I'm constantly amazed at the smart, able people I meet. So the issue is not talent scarcity, but the culture that develops talent.
By culture, I mean the environment in which people work. For example, in some organizations, you'll hear people complain about their silos. They lament the artificial organizational boundaries that make it difficult to develop collaborative relationships that are needed to meet company objectives. Talent that takes an entrepreneurial direction has no such boundaries. The world is open to them. Through the use of the wide range technologies and applications available at virtually no cost, a talented person can build a tremendous platform for their talent to find expression.
How can a traditional corporate business create a culture that allows for talent to take root and thrive. It is not surprising that many of the most talent rich companies are in the technology field. Offices are designed as open spaces that encourage conversation and collaboration. There is freedom to start projects on one's own initiative.
Read this FastCompany article about How Google Grows...and Grows...and Grows. In this Silicon Valley.Com article on Google's office designer's tips, designer Stefan Camenzind offers the following suggestions based on his work with Google.
- Involve the staff
- Give workers more freedom
- Give soul to communal areas
- Don't be afraid of paint
- Never forget the coffee
- Bring on the plants
- Spend on a key highlight
Here are some pictures of the Google offices thanks to Vincent Chow.
To attract, keep and fully utilized talent, a culture that is conducive to creativity and innovation has to be developed. This culture functions on both the personal and the social level.
On the personal, the individual needs have the freedom to create. This prerogative implies a less rigid and formalized operational structure. It allows for experimentation and learning that gets translated into new products and processes. In another sense, it is a leadership culture as each person is given the prerogative to take initiative to make a difference. If there is not freedom to create, there is no freedom to think for oneself, to imagine how to provide a greater benefit to the company, or look for ways to improve the business.
On the social level, the culture needs to be an open, diverse environment that promotes a high level of interaction and integration of the work of the company. If you consider what entrepreneurs who work outside traditional corporate organizational structures experience, you'll begin to get the idea of what an open, diverse environment is. Creativity is nurtured in environments where there is a high level of interaction and the exchange of differing points of view.
The relation of these two aspects of a corporate environment can be visualized here. You need both a high level of freedom for the talented person and an environment that supports their creativity.
I talked with my friend Tom Morris about this issue the other day, comparing Christine Kane's musician world with the average corporate person. He offered an excellent insight. He said that there is so much well-developed talent in the music business because they listen to each other. They let one another influence each other. One musician listens to another, and tries to learn what the other is doing. I know my son who plays the guitar is always trying to figure out how one guitarist or another is playing a tune.
In a corporate environment, Tom noted, there is little of that kind of interaction. This is why there is increasing calls for sharing benchmarks and best practices. It is an attempt to share the experience so that others will benefit from it. This is the kind of culture that attracts talent and makes it possible for them to be fulfilled.
If you want to create a talent culture in your business, focus on these conditions.
1. Freedom to initiative projects that create new products and ways of fulfilling business requirements.
2. Opportunity to perform at the height of one's potential.
3. Access to others with whom to share ideas and approaches.
4. Allocate resources that rewards creativity.
5. Invest in opportunities for interaction across departments, divisions and business units.
Talent issues are mot small issues. They are big ones because they cut across all aspects of an organization's life. If you want to attract talent, it isn't simply the compensation package. It is the culture that they find which will make it possible for them to fulfill their potential.
The keys? Freedom, Openness, Diversity and high levels of interpersonal interaction. The reality is that this is not just about how individual employees are managed. It is about the whole structure of the business is design to function. Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline, makes the point that "structure influences behavior." In other words, it is not enough to say you are free to create. You must create the structures that produce creative behavior. This is quite difficult in organizations where entrepreneurial practices have been weeded out in favor of top-down leadership. If you want talent to thrive in your business, you have to create a bottom-up environment of creative leadership. The truly talented ones, like those Christine Kane compares to Neil Young, will find that not only can they create, but the corporate stucture can actually be a benefit in extending the reach of their talent beyond what they might be possibly do on their own. Of course, it will only happen if you intend for it to do so, and you work to sustain an environment of freedom, openness and diversity.